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Chapter 72 : The Serpent Sworn
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“Good, thanks,” Harry said with tentative smile back.
“Morning,” Padfoot said, yawning.
“Morning, Black,” Rattler said, still smiling. “What are you here for today? Filing?” This last question was accompanied by an expression that was half sympathetic, half apologetic.
“Hopefully it’s something more exciting than that,” Padfoot said ruefully. He grinned. “I was hoping to make an arrest or two, and maybe uncover a conspiracy theory or murder plot... but, yeah, I s’pose paperwork’s all right too.” Rattler laughed.
“I’ve got errands to run this morning,” Rattler said, adjusting his briefcase, “but if you’re too busy to keep an eye on young Potter while you’re saving the Ministry, feel free to leave him with me this afternoon.” Rattler grinned at Harry. “I think I owe you a game of Exploding Snap.” Harry laughed. “And I’ll win this time,” Rattler added. “But what’ll you do this morning? Surely you’ve got better things to do than follow this one-” He gestured to Padfoot. “-around?”
“Arthur Weasley’s bringing his two youngest in,” Padfoot said, “and we’ll let them entertain themselves. I think Arthur’s partner’s out today, so they can have his side.”
“Exactly right,” a white haired wizard wheezed as he passed them and entered the lift.
“Morning, Perkins,” Padfoot said cheerily, as Perkins pressed a button. Rattler looked at Perkins too and muttered a word that was on the list that Harry wasn’t allowed to use at school.
“Just hold the door, would you, Perkins?” Rattler called, before he turned back to Harry and Padfoot. “I’ve got to go, I’m afraid, but my office is open this afternoon.” He hurried into the lift, which was being held open by an elderly wizard with fluffy white hair. Rattler waved through the closing doors with one hand, and fumbled for something golden in his robes with his other.
“He’s cheery this morning,” Padfoot remarked, and then gestured to Harry. “This way, kiddo.” Harry followed him through a narrow web of corridors, and looked around curiously while he walked; that turned out not to be the best idea, because every time he glanced into a cubicle, a hard faced Auror looked back suspiciously. Harry decided to keep his eyes on Padfoot’s back instead.
Padfoot stopped in an area of the Auror Department that Harry vaguely recognised; he knew the bathroom, because he’d used it while he was staying in Bones’ office, and he recognised the cluster of offices; Bones’, obviously, and also Rattler’s, and then Scrimgeour’s a short distance away from those, closer to the cubicles. It was Scrimgeour’s slightly ajar door that Padfoot went to, and knocked on.
There was a bang and a muffled curse from inside – Padfoot drew his wand at once, and Harry put his hand in his pocket, ready to grab his if he needed it - and then Scrimgeour called, “Come in!”
“Is everything all right, sir?” Padfoot asked cautiously, as he pushed the door open. Scrimgeour was sitting at his desk - the top of which was scorched and smoking slightly - and had shoved a piece of parchment into a drawer as soon as they walked in.
“Everything’s fine, thank you, Black,” Scrimgeour said tersely. “Put that away.” Padfoot tucked his wand back into his robes and Harry took his own hand out of his pocket. “Good morning, Potter.”
“Good morning, sir,” Harry said.
“What happened?” Padfoot asked, gesturing to the desk.
“Oh, that?” Scrimgeour asked, fidgeting. “Nothing.” Harry could tell from the set of Padfoot’s mouth that he didn’t believe him, but before he could say anything, Scrimgeour had put his hands together and said, “Now, I’ve got a few things in mind for you today...”
“Yes?” Padfoot asked, after a moment’s hesitation. Scrimgeour began to outline Padfoot’s day, and Harry only heard a bit about a lecture and Padfoot’s opinion before he zoned out and started to pay more attention to the office. It was smaller than Bones’ and more interesting by far; Bones had had a large bookshelf, while Scrimgeour had a smaller one, half filled with books, half filled with strange objects that looked a bit foreboding. A portrait of an old man dozed in the corner, above an ornate object that looked a bit like a sundial, and Scrimgeour’s desk itself was covered with stacks of parchment and a collection of potted plants, none of which Harry recognised.
One twitched, even as he watched it, and he took a step closer, curious. Padfoot and Scrimgeour were too deep in their conversation to notice as Harry got his wand out and prodded it – he knew better than to try that with his hands – and neither spared him more than a glance when the plant reached for his wand and he jerked it out of the way.
“Sorry,” he muttered. Scrimgeour waved a hand, and Padfoot ruffled his hair, and Harry dropped his eyes, embarrassed. They fell on a heavy envelope on the desk. It was singed - obviously it had been too close to whatever had scorched the desk – and it had a strange mark on it, where a muggle stamp would go; two crossed keys, inside a circle made out of a coiled snake-
Scrimgeour noticed Harry looking at it and cleared his throat. Harry took a step back, and Scrimgeour buried the envelope under a pile of other parchment. Padfoot glanced between them, looking confused, and a little concerned.
“So,” Scrimgeour said, giving Harry a sharp look, despite the fact that his words were directed at Padfoot, “you understand what you have to do today?”
“Yes, sir,” Padfoot said, in an odd tone.
“Excellent. Go and do it.” Padfoot and Harry exchanged a look and headed for the door, but Scrimgeour’s voice stopped them. “A word, please, Potter.” Both of them stopped. “Not you, Black. Kindly wait outside.”
“Potter has managed to survive without you being present in the past.” Scrimgeour’s eyes flashed. Harry had, until now, thought he could trust Scrimgeour. Now, though, he wasn’t so sure. “I am certain he can do so again.” Padfoot clenched his jaw. “Is there a problem?”
“Yes, actually,” Padfoot said. “As his guardian, I have every right to know-”
“There are some things that he and I need to speak about,” Scrimgeour said. “Privately. You will have to trust me when I say it is nothing inappropriate-”
“You’re off - strange - this morning,” Padfoot said bluntly. “I don’t know what’s going on-”
“No, and it is none of your business,” Scrimgeour said sharply.
“See?” Padfoot said. “And you want me to trust you-”
“Yes, Black, trust me, like I trusted you when I vouched for you in May,” Scrimgeour snapped. Padfoot deflated at once. He gave Harry a look – one that Harry interpreted to mean that Padfoot would fuss if Harry was worried, but would otherwise subside. Harry bit his lip and nodded, and Padfoot, looking wary, left the room.
“I’ll be right outside,” Padfoot said, probably as much to reassure Harry as to warn Scrimgeour. Scrimgeour shut the door behind Padfoot with a flick of his wand, and muttered a spell that would probably stop noise from leaving.
“You saw the symbol, didn’t you?” Scrimgeour said. Harry considered lying, but suspected Scrimgeour – a practiced Auror – would probably be able to tell.
“A snake,” he said quietly. “With two crossed keys.”
“I thought so,” Scrimgeour sighed. He stared very hard at his hands, which were clasped on the desk, and then looked up at Harry. “Someone – or a group of someones – tried to kill me this morning.” Harry wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he said nothing. “I’m looking into it, or I will be, once we finish here, but I’m going to ask you to stay quiet about this.”
“But- If someone’s trying to kill you, then shouldn’t-”
“Potter, I am Head Auror and have been for many years. Please don’t presume to tell me how to do my job.” Harry flushed and looked down at his trainers. “I am keeping this quiet,” Scrimgeour said again. “I don’t want people to worry over what might be nothing-”
“And if it’s not- if it’s not nothing, sir?” Harry dared to ask.
“Then I will alert the appropriate people at the appropriate time.”
Harry was silent for a long time, expecting Scrimgeour to dismiss him, but he didn’t. Finally, Harry asked, “So why are you telling me?”
“You saw the symbol of the Serpent Sworn,” Scrimgeour said. “I needed to be sure you wouldn’t run to tell your godfather, and that you yourself wouldn’t overreact.”
“He wouldn’t tell anyone,” Harry said, not sure why Padfoot knowing would be an entirely bad thing. “Maybe he could help-”
“I think Black might find this particular group’s associations and beliefs a little too personal... I don’t know the extent of his involvement in the war, but I know he was involved, and now that you’re in the wizarding world and he feels obliged to protect you... No, the Serpent Sworn aren’t something Black would be content to let be, if he knew they were functioning again.”
The war? And Padfoot wanting to protect me from something I might overreact to...? Ice slid down Harry’s spine, as his thoughts reached a chillingly certain conclusion.
“Are you- do you mean to say, that these Serpent Sworn- that they’re somehow connected to Voldemort?” Harry asked. Scrimgeour’s face twitched at the name, but otherwise, his face was impassive.
“I said nothing of the kind,” Scrimgeour said stiffly, but Harry knew he was right.
“But if it is- If it’s Voldemort-” Scrimgeour twitched again. “-then shouldn’t we do something?” Harry asked, with dawning horror.
“I am handling the situation. I ask that you trust me to decide when or if something must be done,” Scrimgeour said.
“It was war last time,” Harry said. “He killed my parents! If something’s happening, sir, then shouldn’t we do-”
“We will not do anything. The Serpent Sworn are not such a big threat that I cannot handle them alone. You are the Boy Who Lived, but you are also a boy and you have no place in this...” Scrimgeour dwindled off, looking unnerved, as if he couldn’t decide what to call the situation, and that worried Harry. He’d always thought Scrimgeour was reasonably competent, but now he wasn’t so sure. “You will stay out of this, and more importantly, stay quiet about what you saw here today, and what we have spoken about. Am I clear?” Harry said nothing.
“Mr Potter, I cannot allow you to leave if I do not have your word.”
“All right,” Harry muttered, not meeting Scrimgeour’s yellow eyes.
“I said all right!” Harry snapped, crossing his fingers behind his back. “You have my word.”
“Your word that what?” Scrimgeour pressed.
“My word,” Harry said in a steely voice, thankful for all the practice with loopholes that living with Kreacher had given him, “that I won’t do anything that would be considered overreacting-” Harry was fairly sure that letting Padfoot and Moony know immediately would not be considered overreacting, especially since it could well be Voldemort they were dealing with here. “- and that I’ll keep everything I’ve heard today quiet.” He hadn’t promised to keep it to himself, though. Harry fought to keep his smugness from showing.
Appearing satisfied, Scrimgeour nodded, and scratched absently at the scorch mark on his desk. Then he looked up at Harry and smiled, seeming, rather abruptly, like the Scrimgeour that Harry’d known in the cells and in the courtroom, rather than the one he’d spent the last few minutes with.
“Thank you very much, Potter.” He looked absurdly pleased with himself.
“Can I go?” Scrimgeour waved a hand, giving him permission – he’d just pulled his communication device out of his pocket and muttered something into it - and Harry left the office quickly and shut the door behind him.
“What in Merlin’s name was that?” Padfoot demanded. Harry glanced around – the corridors were much busier now than they had been when he and Padfoot entered the office.
“I need to talk to you,” Harry said in a low voice. They heard movement in Scrimgeour’s office, and moved around a corner. A moment later, he exited, but didn’t once look in their direction. “Somewhere else,” Harry muttered, watching Scrimgeour head toward the lifts.
Padfoot nodded at once and led Harry away from Scrimgeour’s office. They were stopped several times by Aurors or trainees – Harry recognised Wellington and Yaxley, and also Robards – who wanted to say good morning to Padfoot or both of them, and several minutes later, they finally managed to find themselves a reasonably secluded bit of corridor. It was outside some sort of maintenance cupboard, where, oddly enough, a few people were massing, but thankfully they didn’t pay either Harry or Padfoot too much attention. Those that did, didn’t approach.
“All right,” Padfoot said, eyeing the others. “Let’s hear it.”
“There was an envel-”
“Sirius! Harry!” Tonks came barrelling out of nowhere, looking flustered, and Harry swallowed what he’d been about to say. While he liked Tonks, and trusted her, he thought Padfoot should hear it first, and then Padfoot should decide who should or shouldn’t hear it. “Wotcher!” she said when she reached them.
“Dora,” Padfoot said. He nodded at Bones, who’d arrived at the same time as Tonks, and kept walking; she headed for one of the people outside the cupboard. Padfoot then returned his attention to Dora. “Could you give us a min-” Harry saw his nostrils flare. “Is everything all right?”
“I think so,” Tonks said, but she didn’t look certain.
“What?” Padfoot asked.
“Well, Scrimgeour’s talking to Remus,” Tonks said, an odd look on her face.
“Remus?” Padfoot asked blankly. “As in Moony? With Scrimgeour?”
“What other Remus do you know?” Tonks said, rolling her eyes.
“Why’s he even at the Ministry?” Padfoot asked sharply.
“We had breakfast in the dining hall in the Atrium,” Tonks said, “and then Scrimgeour got out of the lift as we were saying goodbye and asked Remus for a word-”
“I have no clue,” Tonks said, looking peevish. “Scrimgeour told me I’d better get to training or I’d be late, and he had that no-nonsense sort of...” She threw her hands up. “I didn’t really have a choice,” she said, looking a little defensive. Padfoot looked troubled. “I-”
“All right, you lot, down we go,” Robards called, appearing out of a cubicle on Harry’s left. McKinnon was by his side, and she gave Harry and Padfoot a nervous sort of nod, and Tonks a friendlier smile. Around them, people started to move, Tonks among them; she gave Padfoot a grim look and a wave, and went to join McKinnon and Wellington. Yaxley and Prewett were a few steps behind them, deep in conversation. “Black,” Robards said, approaching with a wave. “Scrimgeour tells me you’re observing today-”
“Yeah,” Padfoot said, glancing at Harry, “he wants my opinion or something.” Padfoot looked confused for a moment, and then worried. “Could I just have a moment with Harry-”
“He’s not coming down with us, is he?” Robards asked. “We’re covering Unforgivables, you know, not really appropriate-”
“No, Arthur Weasley’s agreed to watch him,” Padfoot said.
“Oh, good,” Robards turned his head and shouted, “Weasley!” A few seconds later, Mr Weasley poked his head out of an office down the hall, and waved uncertainly. Robards gestured for him to come over. “I hear you’re watching Potter?” Mr Weasley gave Robards an odd look, and smiled in a confused sort of way at Padfoot, who gave him the exact same smile back.
“Can I just-” Padfoot began.
“Robards, Black?” Scrimgeour was back, and Harry automatically moved closer to Padfoot, his jaw setting. Scrimgeour eyed them, and then looked at Mr Weasley, who was looking awkward. “Training’s started... is there a problem?”
“No, sir,” Robards said at once. “Come on, Black.” Padfoot gave Harry a meaningful look, and Harry inclined his head slightly – Padfoot had to go, else Scrimgeour would be suspicious... if he wasn’t already.
“Be good for Arthur, kiddo,” Padfoot said. “I’ll see you for lunch.”
“Bye,” Harry said, as Padfoot followed Robards away. Scrimgeour arched an eyebrow at Harry and then followed the others into the cupboard.
“Never a dull moment, eh?” Mr Weasley said, putting a hand on Harry’s shoulder.
“Guess not,” Harry mumbled, troubled. Something was up and Scrimgeour and the Serpent Sworn were at the heart of it... And, if everyone seemed determined to keep an eye on Padfoot – as Scrimgeour and Robards had seemed keen to do – then Harry would look into it himself, and tell Padfoot what he could when they were safely alone at home.
“Shall we go and see Ron?” Arthur asked brightly, gesturing down the hallway. “He’s waiting in my office.”
“Sure,” Harry said, cheering at the mention of Ron. “And Ginny?” A sad look passed over Arthur’s face, and he adjusted his glasses.
“She didn’t come in today, I’m afraid,” Arthur said, pushing open the door. Ron, who’d been swivelling around in a chair, looked over and grinned.
“Hey, Harry,” he said, and Harry grinned back. Then, Ron turned to his father and asked, “Who?”
“Ginny,” Mr Weasley said, and the same sad expression flickered over Ron’s face. Mr Weasley sat down at his desk and started opening letters, and Harry went and perched on the edge of the desk Ron was near.
“She wanted to,” Ron told Harry. “But she thought staying home was more important.” He paused, looking stricken. “Not that you’re not important, I mean, just that-” Ron stopped and ran a hand through his hair, looking agitated. “Bloody hell-” There was a soft, reprimand from Mr Weasley at that point. “-I made that sound bad. It’s- Our neighbour – Ginny’s friend’s mum- died last week.” Ron stared at the desk in front of him, and Harry said nothing, for fear of offending him. “She- Ginny’s looking after her. But she wanted to see you,” Ron added.
“Tell her thanks,” Harry said, and Ron nodded. “But I reckon she made the right choice, staying home. She’s obviously needed more there than here.” Ron scratched absently at his arm and then scowled. “What’s wrong?” Harry asked.
“Fred and George – my brothers – sent a cursed letter home,” Ron grumbled. “We’ve all been itchy ever since – well, except for Ginny, because they told her how to fix it.”
“Have you tried Finite?” Harry asked.
“Mum has,” Ron said. “I’m trying to get her to send them a Howler-” Harry’s eyebrows shot up. “-but she hasn’t yet, so we’re still itchy.”
“Padfoot might know something that’ll help,” Harry offered. “He’s good at that sort of thing. I can ask him at lunch, if you’d like?”
“Thanks,” Ron said. “It’s probably that or wait until I’m frustrated enough that I can use accidental magic to get rid of it.” Harry smiled.
* * *
“...and that’ll do us, I think,” Robards said, as Blackburn and Hemsley lowered their wands. Dora, who’d morphed herself into something resembling a flower, and one of the male trainees - who’d just confessed several embarrassing truths about himself that Sirius would have preferred not to know – both slumped.
“Well?” Scrimgeour, who’d hovered at Sirius’ side the entire time, asked.
“Hasn’t really changed,” Sirius said, shrugging.
“But it’s not worse?”
“Er, no,” Sirius replied, frowning. Scrimgeour nodded and excused himself.
He wanted me down here, for three hours, just for that? Sirius wondered, and groaned. He’d hardly even been paying attention; instead, he’d been fretting about what Harry might have wanted to tell him.
“You didn’t even do anything,” Marlene said, in a voice that was almost playful. Her eyes were guarded, though, and her smile was strained.
“It’s- never mind. You did well,” Sirius remarked.
“Thank you,” she said warily. Dora bounded over to join them, looking more humanoid now that she’d been released from the Imperius Curse.
“That was weird, wasn’t it?” she said, looking unnerved. “I mean, I knew I wasn’t a flower, but at the same time I didn’t, you know?”
“It’s a bit like that,” Sirius told her, grimacing. “But that’s the first step – being able to differentiate between their instructions, and your own thoughts.”
“Fighting’s the tricky part,” Marlene added.
“You didn’t look like you had any trouble at all,” Dora said, giving her a curious look.
Marlene shrugged and said, “I think I’m just stubborn.”
“Maybe just a bit,” Sirius said, chuckling. Marlene didn’t look offended by the comment, but she didn’t laugh, or even smile either. Dora glanced between them, uncomfortable.
“I think I’ll go and find Gawain,” Marlene said after a moment.
“All right,” Dora said easily. “See you tomorrow, then.”
“Nice seeing you,” Sirius added, and got a strange sort of smile accompanied by a shrug in return. Dora looked like she wanted to say something, but apparently decided against it.
“Shall we get lunch?” she asked instead. Sirius nodded, and the pair of them joined the rest of the crowd that were heading back upstairs to the Auror Department.
“Just hold on,” Sirius said, as they stepped out of the cupboard together. “I’ll grab Harry, and-” Dora squeaked as she collided with the back of a female trainee, and Sirius managed to steady her before she fell completely.
“-Serpent Sworn are not something you can keep quiet about, Rufus!” Amelia said. Sirius could just see the back of her head and robes from around the corner. She wasn’t talking loudly, but every trainee in the vicinity had stopped and was silent, so her voice carried down the hallway. “And especially not if they’re trying to kill you! You’re too valuable to this Department to let them even attempt-”
“I’m handling it,” Scrimgeour said, sounding irritated.
“No, you’re not. And you’re not taking this seriously, which is exactly where the biggest danger lies. Better than we overreact-”
“Apparently,” Scrimgeour muttered.
“-and fix this before it actually becomes a problem – for more people than just yourself – then leave it and let this problem grow. You might be the Head of the Auror Department, but I – with Thomas’ help – am Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and I see this as a threat even if you don’t-”
“You’ve dealt with their type before, and that’s why you’re reacting this way; it’s personal for you, which is exactly why I didn’t want-”
“If we leave this, it could well become personal for all of us,” Amelia snapped. “You’ve got two days to start countering this, or I’ll step in and do it for you.” Sirius heard her shoes – some sort of heel, from the sound of it – clipping on the floor as she left. Scrimgeour didn’t say anything else, and didn’t walk back around the corner – obviously he’d gone the same way as Amelia – which was lucky; as soon as the conversation stopped, the thirty or so people who’d been eavesdropping broke into hushed conversation.
“Who’re the Serpent Sworn?” one man asked.
“What in Merlin’s name could have happened for it to be personal for Bones?” another man wondered. Sirius and Dora shared a look.
“I think I ought to find Mad-Eye,” she said hesitantly.
“Good idea. I’m going to find Harry.” Sirius thought he might know now, what Harry needed to tell him. “Will we see you for dinner?”
“Nah, Mum wants me home tonight,” Dora said, shrugging. “It’ll just be the three of you.” She looked as troubled as Sirius felt as she walked off – and tripped on her own feet as she went – to find her mentor.
Harry was, thankfully, where he was supposed to be; Sirius hadn’t really thought he’d leave and go walking about, but with Harry, it was often difficult to be certain. Arthur’s desk was unoccupied, but neither of the boys seemed fussed; they were sitting at Perkins’ desk, writing on pieces of scrap parchment.
“So then I said to Charlie- Hello, Mr Black,” Ron said, spotting him before Harry. Sirius gave him a bemused look; Mr Black was a strange name. Harry said a hello too, but his eyes were on his drawing.
“Dad’s just gone to the bathroom.” Sirius approached their desk, as Ron finished whatever he’d been saying to Harry before he arrived, and both boys laughed. Games of hangman and noughts and crosses lay littered around the desk. Ron, Sirius was amused to see, had abandoned a drawing of some sort of circle, with arms and legs. Sirius had seen Ginny’s drawing of the dragon, and while she was quite good, it seemed Ron had not inherited her drawing skills.
Harry was drawing an odd symbol, and while it was no work of art, it was also not something he’d made up himself; there were several crossed out versions of the same thing lying around him. It was a snake – Sirius wasn’t sure what sort, because Harry wasn’t that good at drawing – that made a ring, inside which were two keys.
“What’s that?” Sirius asked him in a low voice, but after what he’d just heard between Amelia and Scrimgeour, he thought he knew.
The Serpent Sworn, Harry wrote, glancing at Ron, to make sure he wasn’t paying attention; Ron was adding facial features to his drawing. Then, Harry blew on the ink to dry it, folded the parchment up carefully and placed it in his pocket.
“Are you hungry?” Sirius asked him, heart pounding.
“Starving,” Harry said, and then cast a reluctant look in Ron’s direction.
“Dora’s not coming anymore – something’s happened.” Harry’s hand twitched toward the pocket he’d put his drawing in, and Sirius inclined his head. “Would you and your dad like to join us?” Sirius asked Ron, and Harry’s expression brightened again.
“Join you?” Arthur asked, stepping back into the office.
“For lunch,” Harry said, with a smile. Arthur looked troubled for a moment, and reached into his pocket. Sirius wasn’t sure why, until he realised Arthur was counting the coins he had there.
“It’s my shout,” Sirius said, as Arthur hesitated, looking between Ron, who looked uncomfortable, and Harry, who looked hopeful. “To say thank you for keeping an eye on Harry.”
“It’s not- We can’t let you do that-”
“Of course you can,” Sirius said, with a smile. Ron was now wearing a hopeful expression that matched Harry’s, and Arthur appeared torn. Scrimgeour hadn’t really given him anything to do that afternoon, so Sirius intended to go home as soon as he could; he and Harry had a lot to discuss. But they needed to eat first, and he really did want to thank Arthur and Ron for keeping Harry company – he wondered where Ginny was today – and thought lunch was a good way to do that. What he was reluctant to do, however, was spend much more time in the Ministry, at least until he knew what was going on. And, since he had Harry, he was reluctant to stay anywhere potentially dangerous.
“Come on,” Sirius said. “I know a nice muggle cafe just around the corner.”
Arthur’s eyes shone at the mention of muggles and Sirius knew he had him convinced.
Sorry about the slightly late update, and sorry to worry you. :S
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